James Kettleborough wants Staffordshire to express themselves

Staffordshire County Cricket Club captain James Kettleborough

James Kettleborough hopes letting his Staffordshire side play with freedom will reap rewards as they start their red-ball campaign.

Staffs make the long journey to Bury St Edmunds this weekend for their opening National Counties Cricket Association Division One East game against Suffolk.

It has been an up-and-down season so far for Staffs, who opened their summer schedule by winning the Twenty20 Cup.

However, they exited the Knockout Trophy at the group stage – leaving the Championship as their sole focus for the remainder of the season.

And skipper Kettleborough, who made the winter move from Bedfordshire to Staffs, is relishing the challenge of the three-dayers.

“I’m 100 per cent excited to get out there. When I took on the role of captain, my first thought was drawn to ‘can we win our division?’.

“There’s nothing better than playing a three-day game. You turn up on a Sunday morning and are there until potentially Tuesday night.

“To get a positive result it takes a huge physical and mental effort, so there’s nothing more satisfying than coming back with a win after three days’ of hard work.”

‘Three-day mission’

Staffs face home games against Buckinghamshire and Lincolnshire and another away jaunt to East Anglia to face Norfolk in their division.

Staffordshire last won the division in 2019, but Kettleborough is keen to take small steps towards that goal, starting with Sunday’s clash.

“They are all tough fixtures, but we’ve spoken about last year’s results,” added Kettleborough.

“Suffolk got off to a slow start and then beat Staffs and Bedfordshire to stay up.

“Our goal is to win the division – and to do that we want to get off to a good start.

Staffordshire Under-21s complete victory mission  at Herefordshire

“There will be a clear message to have a positive approach, but one thing that we said at Beds last year is that we wanted to win, but we would also do everything possible to make sure we didn’t lose if we had to.

“We want to enjoy it, but you have to break things down. Can we get through the first hour, then to lunch and so on?

“The template is there, but I want the lads to play with confidence and freedom, without being reckless.

“We want to set the tone and start as we mean to go on. That’s what we’re aiming to do this weekend.”

‘All change’

Staffordshire will field seven county Championship debutants in this weekend’s encounter.

Kettleborough and left-arm spinner Tom Brett will make their Championship bows for Staffs. However, the pair boast a wealth of experience on the NCCA circuit.

Also included in the team are five players who have never played a red-ball game at this level. They are wicketkeeper Callum Hawkins, seamers Sam Atkinson, Rory Haydon and Liam Hurt, plus all-rounder Nils Priestley.

There is also a recall to the three-day ranks for Ashcombe Park slow left-armer Anis Raza. He last featured for Staffordshire in the long format in 2018.

Spinner Tom Brett joined Staffordshire ahead of the 2023 NCCA season.
Spinner Tom Brett joined Staffordshire ahead of the 2023 NCCA season. Picture: Alfie Shenton

Staffordshire are also boosted by the inclusion of Zen Malik, who has been with Leicestershire throughout the summer.

“There’s a lot of debutants in this format, so we want to find our feet,” explained Kettleborough.

“We’ve not picked these players to give them a chance. We’ve selected them because we think they are part of our strongest team.

“It might take a bit of adjusting to, but we want to play our cricket with a pretty young side.

“But we’re full of confidence and we’re lucky to be in a position where we’ve got so many players to pick from.”

‘Experience counts’

With plenty of youngsters in the side, attention will turn to Hurt and Brett to lead the way with the ball.

And Kettleborough says he’s delighted that Malik is available for the fixture.

“If you ask Liam and Bretty, this is probably the format they are looking forward to the most,” said Kettleborough.

“Bretty likes bowling long spells and he can get into a rhythm. The same with Liam.

“Zen is at the stage where he’s still pursuing playing professionally and we’ve got no issue with that.

“We don’t want to run him into the ground. He’s available and we are a better side for him being in it.”

Staffordshire (from): James Kettleborough (cpt, Checkley), Sam Atkinson (Moddershall & Oulton), Tom Brett (Finedon Dolben), Callum Hawkins (Moddershall & Oulton), Rory Haydon (Kenilworth Wardens), Michael Hill (Meakins), Liam Hurt (Flixton), Zen Malik (Leek), Matthew Morris (Westhoughton), Nils Priestley (Swarkestone), Anis Raza (Ashcombe Park), Dan Richardson (Moddershall & Oulton).

Picture: James Kettleborough is eyeing a positive Staffordshire start at Suffolk. Image: Alfie Shenton